Japan PM says no need to rush US base decision
Japanese PM said there was no need to rush a decision that could stall a realignment of U.S. troops in the country.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said on Friday there was no need to rush a decision that could stall a realignment of U.S. troops in the country, as tension grows over an issue that could fray ties with Washington.
The top U.S. military officer kept up the pressure on Tokyo, saying a swift decision on the repositioning of a U.S. Marine air base was needed to avoid putting a troop reorganisation deal at risk, undermining security in Japan and the region.
The Sankei newspaper reported Japan would tell U.S. President Barack Obama when he visits next month that it would craft a new plan by the end of the year to relocate the base on the southern island of Okinawa. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said there had been no such decision.
"It's about how both sides avoid risks. That's what diplomacy is about," Hatoyama told reporters. "There is no need to rush."
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week made a blunt call for the planned realignment to be implemented and for Tokyo to decide on the issue before Obama's Nov. 12-13 visit to Japan.
"Secretary Gates said 'hopefully before President Obama visits,' but the message is really 'absolutely as soon as possible'," Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Friday.
"It's two things: first and foremost critical in the defence of Japan in a time of a growing threat and, secondly, critical to the defence of the region," he said of the realignment.
A broad deal to reorganise U.S. forces in Japan was agreed in 2006 between Washington and Japan's long-dominant conservative party, which was ousted by Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in an August election.
Base on OKINAWA
Central to the deal is a plan to move the functions of the Futenma air base -- located in a crowded urban area of Okinawa -- to a remoter part of the island, while shifting 8,000 Marines to the U.S. territory of Guam, partly at Japan's expense.
Hatoyama had said he wanted the base moved off the island, which lies 1,600 km (1,000 miles) from the Japanese mainland in the Pacific Ocean. But U.S. officials have ruled that out, saying it would undermine broader security agreements.
Foreign Minister Katsyua Okada said it was unrealistic to consider shifting the functions of Futenma off Okinawa.
"Considering that ... the more time we take, the longer the danger at Futenma continues, moving the base outside Okinawa is not a realistic option," Okada said.
That comment was likely to upset the Democrats' small leftist coalition partner and some in his own party.
Many residents on Okinawa, home to a large chunk of the U.S. military in Japan, complain about crime, noise and pollution associated with the bases and say they have borne an unfair share of the burden for the security alliance.
Japan hosts some 47,000 U.S. military personnel within the security alliance, which marks its 50th anniversary next year.
Damage to U.S.-Japan ties could spell geopolitical uncertainty in a region home to a rising China and an unpredictable North Korea, eventually affecting investment flows.
But few analysts expect bilateral strains to spill over into economic ties between the world's two biggest economies, and financial markets were taking the row in their stride.
Reuters Last Mod: 24 Ekim 2009, 12:27